Luster

Author: Raven Leilani

Published: August 4th, 2020

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Where I picked up my book: Local Indie

My Rating: 5 stars

My Thoughts:

This was truly an intoxicating debut novel. I’m still thinking about it weeks after finishing it. Here are some thoughts I had:

  1. I LOVE characters that don’t have it all together and by definition, this main character (Edie) is far from having anything together.
  2. Leilani is beyond a talented writer. She creates sentences that often had me pause to think about the actual sentence structure. It is truly a work of art.
  3. This is not a light read. It’s definitely dark and gritty and at times, fell into the ‘this is a slightly uncomfortable situation for me’ pile, but nonetheless-I soaked in every word.
  4. I’m realllllll glad I’m not in my early 20’s and dating anymore (no offense to those of you that are, but oooof)
  5. NYC is almost a character in her own right. I LOVEEEEE when that happens in a book. Especially as someone who has only been to NYC a couple of times.
  6. Luster covers a lot of topics (being Black in America, being poor, being young and trying to navigate life, being an artist, growing up in an emotionally abusive home, alcoholism, self-harm…the list goes on) BUT there was not one second that I felt overwhelmed by how much was being confronted in these pages. I keep coming back to this-I think it was because Leilani’s magical writing made it happen with ease.
  7. There is a lot to unpack in this novel and I hope to get the chance to discuss it with someone asap! Sorry for the rambling mess-but that’d what this book has left me at.
  8. Go ahead and grab this book. You won’t be disappointed. Have I mentioned the writing?!?!

Bookishfolk…read instead.

Late Migrations

Author: Margaret Renkl

Published: July 9, 2019

Publisher: Milkweed Editions

Where I picked up my book: Purchased from my local Indie (Old Firehouse Books)

Key Words: life cycles, love and loss, nature writing

My Rating: 5 stars

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My Thoughts:

I truly loved this book. It’s beautifully written (I’m not sure I’ve ever read such a beautiful book) and made me deeply think with nearly every sentence I read. Late Migrations asked me to reflect on those, oftentimes overlooked, connections that happen in life-if you’re paying attention. Renkl beautifully intertwines love and loss, parenthood, grief, the natural world, family, care-taking and the ebb and flow of life. It’s not only braided in a beautiful and poignant way, but I was sucked in from sentence one and only released once I finished the last sentence. It’s one of those books.

I highly suggest this book and reading it outside if you can-it’s true magic. And just look at that cover!!

As always, find me on Instagram and let’s talk books!

bookishfolk…read instead.

Godshot

Author: Chelsea Bieker

Published: March 31, 2020

Publisher: Catapult

Where I picked up my book: Purchased from my local Indie (Old Firehouse Books)

Key Words: cults, coming of age, mother/daughter, religious trauma

My Rating: 4 stars

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My Thoughts:

First, give me any books about cults and I’m in, 100%. Add that the cult revolves around some bizarre religion-yes please! So I knew this book was going to be right up my alley. I immediately ordered it from my local indie and it didn’t disappoint. Second, books about disastrous mother/daughter relationships are also my jam…so another check on my list! Immediately upon porch delivery (thanks Old Firehouse Books for being so quick), I dug in and barely popped out until it was over. Here are some of my thoughts:

1. The atmosphere in this book was VIVID. Parched and dry land surrounds this town and I could almost taste the dust as I read. That is some magical writing right there.

2. If I could live in a world full of women somehow, I would. Also, cult-y Christian men are the worst (only my personal opinion folks). Screw the patriarchy!

3. Flawed characters is the name of the game and Bieker’s writing of them is amazing. I didn’t even know where to put my brain when it came to some of these characters (in the best sense that is). Do I feel bad for them, sad for them, mad at them, all of the above at all different times?! Most of the characters, yes, that is exactly how I felt about them. And then some I just despised. It was the definition of flawed characters and I’m always sold on that.

4. Humans are resilient and we really see this through the lens of Lacey.

5. There are some funny bits in this book and you’ll appreciate them so much and find yourself laughing and then almost feeling guilty for laughing. It’s all part of the experience of Godshot.

Ultimately, Godshot is about a young woman coming into her own and suddenly realizing the world she grew up in isn’t actually what she thought it was. ( I have a VERY similar story. No, I didn’t exactly grow up in a cult per say, but I did grow up in a fundamentalist Christian household and church and some of this book hit veryyyyyyy close to home. I walked the walk until I opened my eyes as a young teenager, looked around, asked questions, got curious and saw what was actually happening. I can remember it like it was yesterday and oh boy, thank goodness I opened those eyes!

If you enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale, The Water Cure or The Girls-I think you’ll want to add Godshot to your must-read list! This is a debut novel and I’m real excited to see what else Bieker has to offer us!

As always, find me on Instagram, shop my paper goods at PAGEFIFTYFIVE and let’s be friends!

Bookishfolk…read instead.

Evicted

Author: Matthew Desmond

Published: March 1, 2016

Publisher: Crown Publishing

Where I picked up my book: Library

Key Words: Non-fiction, politics, social justice, poverty and housing crisis

My Rating: 5 stars

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Synopsis (via Goodreads):

New York Times Bestseller

From Harvard sociologist and MacArthur “Genius” Matthew Desmond, a landmark work of scholarship and reportage that will forever change the way we look at poverty in America
 
In this brilliant, heartbreaking book, Matthew Desmond takes us into the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee to tell the story of eight families on the edge. Arleen is a single mother trying to raise her two sons on the $20 a month she has left after paying for their rundown apartment. Scott is a gentle nurse consumed by a heroin addiction. Lamar, a man with no legs and a neighborhood full of boys to look after, tries to work his way out of debt. Vanetta participates in a botched stickup after her hours are cut. All are spending almost everything they have on rent, and all have fallen behind.

The fates of these families are in the hands of two landlords: Sherrena Tarver, a former schoolteacher turned inner-city entrepreneur, and Tobin Charney, who runs one of the worst trailer parks in Milwaukee. They loathe some of their tenants and are fond of others, but as Sherrena puts it, “Love don’t pay the bills.” She moves to evict Arleen and her boys a few days before Christmas.

Even in the most desolate areas of American cities, evictions used to be rare. But today, most poor renting families are spending more than half of their income on housing, and eviction has become ordinary, especially for single mothers. In vivid, intimate prose, Desmond provides a ground-level view of one of the most urgent issues facing America today. As we see families forced  into shelters, squalid apartments, or more dangerous neighborhoods, we bear witness to the human cost of America’s vast inequality—and to people’s determination and intelligence in the face of hardship.

Based on years of embedded fieldwork and painstakingly gathered data, this masterful book transforms our understanding of extreme poverty and economic exploitation while providing fresh ideas for solving a devastating, uniquely American problem. Its unforgettable scenes of hope and loss remind us of the centrality of home, without which nothing else is possible.

My Thoughts:

I put this book on my list a while back after I heard an interview with Roxanne Gay where she was asked, “what the last book you read that infuriated you?” and she named Evicted. I immediately thought to myself…’I feel like getting fired up right now’ so I put it on my list and man…this book lived up to those words. In fact, ‘fired up’ doesn’t even begin to address how I felt after reading this one.

Little back story on me: I grew up in the suburbs of Buffalo and when I turned 18, I remember the first thing I wanted to do was get the hell out of the suburbs and into the place where I felt I could be more myself. So my friend and I rented a HUGE apartment (read: heating bills that nearly put us into bankruptcy) in a neighborhood we could afford the city of Buffalo where gunshots had us ducking in our living room, shotguns were pulled on us by the neighbor across the street, drug exchanges happened at all hours of the night in the apartment next to us, and where we sat on our porch roof eating jello cups and watching a woman chase a man down the street with a giant metal pipe. It wasn’t what you would consider a neighborhood ours moms wanted us to live in, but we loved it, made a lot of friends with the neighbors, played with the little girl downstairs named Queenie and brought her ice cream in the summer because she was allergic to the sun, helped her brother pick out the best clothing for his fashion show (he was muchhhh better than us, we just liked the drawings of the clothes that he created), walked out to the bars at night, and felt a real sense of neighborhood from this first apartment. I remember walking into the apartment with the landlord (who was a sketch lawyer in the city we found out later) and as he showed us the place he assured us he would have the piles of shit (literal shit) and huge holes in the walls fixed before we moved in. We excitedly handed him our security deposit and that was that.

Fast forward a lot of years later, to me reading this book and the entire time I just kept thinking…and this is where my path and the people in this book’s paths veered separate ways. I had suburban parents that weren’t happy I moved out, or where I was living, but probably weren’t going to let me live on the streets. I didn’t have kids who had to go to school and needed a stable home to succeed in. I didn’t have to decide between eating that day or getting to my job. I was living a life of white privilege in an environment that might have done in any of these people we read about in Evicted.  Plus, if we were a few days late on rent, there wasn’t even a question asked from our landlord, he just assumed we’d get it taken care of…we were lucky. So the whole time I was reading this book, I just kept thinking to myself…if I had different color skin, if I didn’t have parents to bail me out financially when I got myself into some trouble, if I didn’t have a dad who helped me fix my car when it broke down on the highway, if I wasn’t in college getting a degree, if I didn’t have a landlord that trusted that we would pay the rent more than most…my life would have looked very differently than it did. My story may have looked a lot more similar to the stories in Evicted.  Don’t get me wrong, I am very grateful for my position in life, but how does this bode for the rest of society? Those people who are born with brown skin in a struggling city, or really any city for that matter. Those people who don’t have parents to fall back on when times get tough? Those people who depend on unreliable public transportation to get them to and from their jobs? Those people who have addictions? Well…those answers are in this book and spoiler alert, the answer is never pretty. I was never in actual fear of homelessness, true poverty, nor the constant threat of eviction-those thoughts really never crossed my mind. I can’t imagine if I was trying to live my days with those constant threats in the back (or front) of my mind, but throughout these stories, we see what that feels like, how it deems your present and future and how it sets a person on a path that is nearly impossible to divert from. It’s truly eye-opening.

Desmond suggests a universal housing voucher program and throughout the book I just kept thinking…why the HELL do we not have this program. It’s a relatively simple idea where anyone under the poverty line could take their voucher and use it to rent an apartment on the private market. As of right now, we have Section 8, but this is terrible program that just, simply put, isn’t working for most of the people in need of housing assistance. There are specific homes designated for Section 8, there is a lottery system to get into the program, so most families spent years on a waiting list, and the other rules and limitations make it nearly impossible for many families to receive Section 8 at all. Here is a great article that helped me better understand the program, Section 8, and what a voucher program would look like.We need some major changes in this country in terms of how we treat all of our citizens. This book gives us a real perspective on what life looks like for many families living in our community, what their struggles are, and how they got there. It’s sure to make you angry and sad, but ultimately, I think it will make you want to get out there and try to make some real change. Desmond is coming to our city for a book talk and I’m thrilled to listen to how our community is being affected and what we can do to help bring fairer practices to the housing crisis in my own community. Whatever your current situation is in life right now, I think this book is for you. It’s eye-opening, important, needs to be read and is sure to fire you up-you’ve been warned.

 

Rust & Stardust

Author: T. Greenwood

Published: August 7, 2018

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Where I picked up my book: Free gift from publisher (all thoughts are completely my own)

Key Words: true crime, dark and twisted, disturbing, trigger warning for abuse

My Rating: 4 star

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Synopsis (via Goodreads):

When 11 year-old Sally Horner steals a notebook from the local Woolworth’s, she has no way of knowing that 52 year-old Frank LaSalle, fresh out of prison, is watching her, preparing to make his move. Accosting her outside the store, Frank convinces Sally that he’s an FBI agent who can have her arrested in a minute—unless she does as he says.

This chilling novel traces the next two harrowing years as Frank mentally and physically assaults Sally while the two of them travel westward from Camden to San Jose, forever altering not only her life, but the lives of her family, friends, and those she meets along the way.

My Thoughts:

First off, eek, this was a hard book to read. And for anyone that is triggered by sexual abuse, you might want to steer clear from this one. With that said, although it’s ripping and mentally exhausting subject matter, I was completely sucked into this book from the beginning and stayed up late into the nights to finish it up. There was something about this little girl, Sally, that I continued to root for until the very end.

Second, have you ever read, or seen, Lolita? What you might not know (I didn’t) is that it’s based on a true crime abduction of a young girl by a child molester. So the author of this book, T. Greenwood (a woman in case you were wondering-I was), gives a fictional voice to this real-life young girl, Florance Sally Horner, and her family in Rust & Stardust.  And just an FYI-don’t google this case unless you want to spoil the book for yourself. I had no idea that it was based off of a true story, but if I had, and had I googled anything, I would have spoiled the book for myself for sure. Just read it as is…and then google the crap out of it like I did. Or don’t-it was quite a terrifying, sad, rabbit hole that I fell down :/ Moving on…

Third, can we talk about abductions for a minute? I remember being slightly nervous about being abducted as a child. Did my parents remember this specific case? Maybe they did. I can’t see they could ever forget it if they had read about it, but it was quite before my time. Were children being endlessly abducted in the 80’s? Maybe, but doubtful. Where did this innate fear come from? The whole idea of a creepy work truck driving by and picking me up could still keep me up at night if I let it. After reading this story and then going down the rabbit hole of the true life abduction of this little girl, I can’t think of anything more terrifying for both children and parents to go through than this. So, although I don’t think my fear was necessarily justified, it makes more sense why it was there and why my parents routinely taught us not to talk to strangers in cars, scream if someone tried to grab us, and always made sure we had a quarter in our pocket to call home. Brrr…it’s terrifying. So as I was reading this book, I was completely engrossed with the story, but also just kept thinking-did her mom ever warn her about child molesters? Did they have that talk about not talking to strangers like my parents did? Why wasn’t the neighborhood and school obsessed with finding her? Was there a fear of abductions in the 50’s?

Also…now as an adult, I just felt such pain for Sally’s mother and the role that she played in her daughter’s disappearance. It was heartbreaking to think of myself in her shoes and the responsibility she must have felt for her daughter being kidnapped. I had moments when I was so mad at her I could have flung the book across the room. How could you let her leave town with a stranger? How could you not be shaking heaven and hell to get her back? How are you not banging down every police station you can get to and making them do their job to find her? How are you just going about your business for the past few MONTHS and simply thinking your daughter is enjoying the beach? It’s been two months for god sake without you really even second guessing her whereabouts. But then I remembered her circumstance and that gave me some empathy for her. She’s not had an easy go at life, especially recently, and maybe it was easier to just keep thinking that all was fine with Sally. I’m not sure I would react like she did as a mother, but times were different in the 50’s and I’m also not here to judge.

Speaking of the 50’s, I also had a major realization when reading this book just thinking about how much life has changed from then to today. Today, we have cell phones, with tracking devices on them, to know the whereabouts of our loved ones at all times. We have social media to that tell the world exactly where we are in real-time. We have text messaging and Skype calls to keep in touch. We have the Internet. There is no such thing as finding change to make a call from a telephone booth, we just grab our phone out of our pocket and hit one button that immediately calls 911. Times have changed. And although bad things still happen (I should say bad things definitely still happen), they are just different kinds of crimes they are occur more frequently now. It was such a reality check for me, a person that grew up without all of these technological advances, but now depends so much on them. I sometimes balk at our technological advances and just wish for the days cell phones and the Internet, but crimes like this play out very differently in these modern times.

Another thing that struck me was how this little girl must have been told to respect her elders, respect the police and FBI, and not question authority. I won’t say that I wasn’t taught the same thing in the 80’s, and this was certainly common for children in the 1950’s. But when she just trusted this man and didn’t ask questions for literally YEARS, or at least didn’t verbally ask questions for years, I just kept thinking what a disservice we do to children when we teach them this. I think I was taught this as a child too. Don’t question teachers, coaches, adults in positions of power…but as I grew up, I spent a lot of time doing the exact opposite. It might not have been the best way to spend my teenage years (let’s just say there were a lot of detention slips on my desk) but now as an adult, I am so, so happy that I learned to have a voice and question authority. After reading this book-it was even more apparent that we need to find that balance with children to respect adults, but don’t take any shit from them either. I don’t have the answers as to how to do this-but I’d like to explore it more.

Overall, I loved this book, but it was a very hard read. It struck a few nerves for me and triggered some deep seeded hurt and anger in me too. Lolita turned this relationship into a weird love story that I was never comfortable with and I’m thankful for T. Greenwood for showing the relationship for what it was-a terrifying experience for a little girl who lost so much to a sick man. My heart is forever aching for Sally, but I’m glad to have “met” you.

bookishfolk…read instead.